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Sha'Ron James


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Repair scams a certainty after Hurricane Matthew, insurers warn

 

Date: October 07, 2016
Source: Orlando Sentinel
Author:  Paul Brinkmann

 

Insurance inspectors and adjustors were fanning out Friday across Florida, some driving RVs thatserve as complete offices, to get services to hurricane victims.

But if you don't contact them first, or even just call your insurance company, you're at risk for falling victim to Florida's hottest new fraud scheme – assignment of benefits fraud.

Eleanor Posner, 74, fell for the trick in September 2015, when her house flooded. A contractor told her he wouldn't start work until she signed over her insurance benefits to him. He said she wouldn't pay a penny.

The contractor took a long time to complete the job, and overcharged her insurance company. The company declined to pay the full amount, and that prompted the contractor to threaten Posner for the remaining balance.

"When they say, don't worry, that's when you should start worrying," Posner said.

She said a high-pressure sales tactic from a contractor is a big red flag.

"Not all contractors are bad, not at all," Posner said. "But you pay for insurance, so you should call them and use them."

Hurricane Matthew may have flooded your car, or your roof might have a hole in it, but you don't have to settle for the first contractor you see, said Michal Brower, spokeswoman for State Farm in Florida.

She said the impact of the storm is so large that State Farm has set up major staging areas in Birmingham, Ala., and in North Carolina, with other smaller locations.

"Assigning the contractor the benefits just means you're assigning away your policy. They'll make false claims, or sue the insurance company for frivolous claims," said Michael Peltier, spokesman for Citizens.

Assignment of benefits can be done properly, but it also provides an opportunity for companies to inflate your home repair costs. The problem has gotten so big that the Florida Chamber of Commerce backed a new group to battle it, the Consumer Protection Coalition. The coalition has also blamed unscrupulous law firms for partnering with the contractors.

Other tips for hurricane recovery:

• Begin to make temporary repairs to prevent further damage to your home or property. Keep a record of time spent and all receipts for work done on your property.

• Take pictures/video of the damaged property. Keep notes and use inventory lists to help adjusters assess the damages.

• Remove tree debris from the structure and place it on the ground.

• Check out replacement costs/estimates from local retailers, and obtain statements from vendors on items that cannot be repaired. Be careful before signing anything without fully reading the documents.

• Do not dispose of any damaged contents until authorized by your agent or claim representative because they might want to inspect them.

• Never start a flooded vehicle until it has received a thorough inspection by a qualified mechanic.

• Preserve all building materials removed by any contractor or vendor until you speak with your insurance company.

pbrinkmann@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5660; Twitter @PaulBrinkmann